4.03.2017

Night of the Comet (1984)


"Since before recorded time, it had swung through the universe in an elliptical orbit so large that its very existence remained a secret of time and space..." 

(1984)

"But now, in the last few years of the 20th century, the visitor was returning ... Scientists predicted a light show of stellar proportions, something not seen on Earth for 65 million years. Indeed, not since the time that the dinosaurs disappeared, virtually overnight."


"There were a few who saw this as more than just a coincidence, but most... did not."


As has been the case for the past few films of this series of posts celebrating the cars and landscapes of a bygone cinema age, I hadn't intended to include Night of the Comet in The Scenic Route. But as I watched it in fits and starts over the past few nights, it started to make more and more sense

Any movie where a major city is cleared of its traffic and citizens to evoke a post-apocalyptic setting is worth a Scenic Route.

I love to read or watch post-apocalyptic stuff that takes place in the past. It adds such an interesting Pompei/ bottled-Kandor effect to things. What if the world ended when Reagan was in office and Los Angeles was king of the world? There's something re-assuring but having lived through a fake apocalypse. 


I watched this thirty or forty times during the VHS Age. The last time I saw it (I think) was at a Y2K (another fake apocalypse) party where my friend and I threw it on at like four in the morning. I remember enjoying it, but I wasn't in the most discerning frame of mind. This time around I found it to be a lot more self-aware and forward-thinking than I ever remember noticing: female protagonists whose sexuality doesn't mean an early onscreen death who unapologetically know guns via an absentee father, a Latino male lead (who gets top billing in the credits, despite Reggie clearly being the main character), and even police brutality and consumerism (the film's most horror-movie-like set piece).


This isn't the sustained exploration of zombie consumerism that Day of the Dead and so many others are, but there's a definite self-awareness akin to that seen on Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the 90s. Although not when it comes to the electricity and gas and food - everything just seems to keep humming right along even with no one to man the pumps. Maybe a character or two could have spared a remark for this, but not a dealbreaker. All in all, it holds up remarkably well, particularly for that often-most-dated of genres: the 80s horror/thriller.

I particularly liked this sibling-rivalry dynamic between Sam and Reggie.
Samantha laments throughout that she competes with her older sister for guys and that Reggie is always winning.
As the dust settles (ahem) on the apocalypse, her sister and Hector further recreate the mating dynamic that eludes her thanks to the addition of the two orphaned children from the research base, and she becomes even more despondent.
Until!
Another survivor.
And a former rival of her older sister's to boot.

THE CAST

Catherine Mary Stewart (r) and Kelli Maroney (l) as Reggie and Samantha.
Robert Beltran as Hector.
Geoffrey Lewis and Mary Woronov as Drs. Carter and White.
And these two kids. I didn't really look them up. Here's the imdb - have at it.
I like how they're holding their visual-shorthand-props for every scene.

The soundtrack is pretty standard for an 80s flick - it's rather remarkable how uniform these things were, in retrospect. Unfortunately, all of its synth-instrument John Carpenter-y moments (most notably that wonderful stretch of music that accompanies Reggie's motorcycle ride through deserted LA streets) don't seem to have any YouTube representation. Too bad. 

Some simple but very effective lighting and set design throughout.
"Make sure to get Uncle Sam in the shot!" = Genre Filmmaking 101.

"Night of the Comet is in some ways the B-movie programme it purports to be, but it’s also a genre film about people who have seen genre films. Or maybe even know they’re in one themselves. There’s a sense of play afoot, not just in more obvious sections, as when the girls go shopping in a now-abandoned mall. The way they, and the film, approaches the zombie/mutant creatures, or the secret organization, takes for granted that we have seen these sort of tropes before, and toys with their presentation. Reggie and Sam are reacting as much to their pop culture past as to the actual threats in front of them. All of which makes the film a blast to watch." - Scott Nye, Criterioncast.

~

3 comments:

  1. Oh, wow -- this seems to be a very different movie than what I thought it was. I've never seen it, but have been vaguely aware of it for years (mostly from the poster art, I suspect), and I thought it was some sort of alien invasion flick or something. Where I got this idea, I have no clue.

    But yeah, this seems not to be that at all! Seems like the sort of thing I'd enjoy. I mean, Chakotay in a lead role?!? Geoffrey Lewis?!? What more do I need?

    It appears, based on these screencaps, to be a very good-looking movie, which is always a plus.

    Catherine Mary Stuart -- she seemed familiar, and I guess I'm probably thinking of "The Last Starfighter" but she also looks a lot like Alexandra Paul in "Christine." In other words, she looks like the eighties. No problem there.

    I am going to have to check this movie out for sure.

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    Replies
    1. Good call on Alexandra Paul - definite resemblance, there, and yeah, they both look like the 80s. I like that.

      The original marketing for "Night of the Comet" stressed the comet angle - it looked like an alien invasion/ Valley Girls movie more than what it actually was. I watched a couple of trailers on YouTube and they all seemed to describe a totally different film.

      Good flick, tho, for sure.

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  2. My thoughts basically echo Bryant's.

    "Night of the Comet...Uhhh, isn't that the one with all those zombie outbreaks on like a prom night or something, or am I thinking of "Night of the Creeps?"

    Haven't seen either movie but have heard of both.

    This should help move things along.

    Cool facts:

    Neil Gaiman and Joss Whedon both found inspiration from this flick:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night_of_the_Comet

    ChrisC

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